In this paper, I will examine the development and construction of the Dodgers Stadium in Elysian Park, CA from the 1910-1970s. Elysian Park, a suburban neighborhood in Los Angeles, is located in central Los Angeles, surrounded on the north by Elysian Valley and on the east by Lincoln heights. The history of Elysian Park goes back to the Spanish Colonial period in Los Angeles in 1769-1821. Although the area was first occupied by the YangNa Native Americans in the eighteenth century, the land was not used until the first Spanish colonizers, Father Juan Crespi and Gaspar de Portola settled in 1776. In 1781, under the Spanish California Governor Felipe de Neve, a public royal grant of 28 square miles or about 17,000 acres of pueblo land was given along with the establishment of Los Angeles Pueblo. Soon after the Spanish-Mexican period in 1844, a total of 83 acres of land was obtained by Julian Chavez, a New Mexico native - ‘Chavez Ravine’ originates from this. At this time, Elysian Park was originally known as Rock Quarry Hills due to the building stones in the area. In order to have private developments and produce city revenue, the majority of Chavez’s land was auctioned by the Ord Survey of 1849. However, Rock Quarry Hills was considered reserved for a public purpose was pulled out of the public auction. In the hopes of dedicating Rock Quarry Hills as a forever well-known city park in Los Angeles, the mayor William Workman renamed the area to Elysian Park on April 5, 1886 (Masters, Origins). The Citizens’ Committee has worked and fought to preserve the parklands in perpetuity ever since.
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In 1913, the suburban history of Elysian Park began through the attorney Marshall Stimson’s relocation of a total of 250 Mexican-American families due to the Los Angeles River flood (Masters, Chavez). The increase in private land subsidy and the number of families is precisely depicted in [Graph 1 here]. As seen, the number of families increased dramatically within a decade, ultimately developing Elysian Park as an unplanned suburb. Because the region was not originally planned to be a suburb, the homeowners had to find their own housing and no developments were made. The evidence of Elysian Park being an unplanned suburb are as follows: easy access to ownership and cheap lands, no restrictions associated with a household, no building restrictions, and a lack of services put forth by the city to attract new residents and businesses. Easy access to ownership and cheap lands could be proved by Stimson’s relocation of 250 Mexican-American families who were considered as one of the first residents in Elysian Park. Due to having no land-use restrictions within the household, many residents raised and produced livestock in their backyards in order to lower the cost of living. Similarly, not having a strict building restriction allowed low-income families to build their own homes. The community had septic tanks, poor sewerage systems, and even lacked concrete roads, highlighting the lack of city services to attract new residents and businesses. In addition, the demographics of the early residents in the community show mostly low-income Mexican-American laborers who barely had any education. With these characteristics, Elysian Park clearly proved to be an unplanned suburban community.
The record shows the Elysian Park community being used as a public area from the Spanish Colonial period in the eighteenth century to 1886 when the region was formally created. The history of this region led to the Battle of Chavez Ravine and ultimately to the construction of the Dodgers Stadium, as Walter O’Malley, a former American sports executive, and Norris Poulson, a former Los Angeles Mayor, settled an agreement.
The National Housing Act of 1949 under President Harry Truman sparked the clash of Chavez Ravine. While the act was put in place to provide quality housing for all American families and further develop American cities, it was trailed by three features: authorizing “one billion in loans to help cities acquire slums and blighted land for public or private redevelopment”, “revived, expanded, or extended existing housing programs”, and “restarted the public housing program established by the Wagner Housing Act of 1937” (Hoffman, 310). Using this feature, Fletcher Bowron, the Los Angeles Mayor at the time, endorsed 11 projects. The total expense of the 11 projects was estimated to be around $110 million, which came from the federal government (Hines).
Within those 11 projects included the construction of Elysian Park Heights, which was created to provide public housing to make Elysian Park look more like a suburban region. In order to define the Los Angeles lifestyle, the mayor hoped to increase the urban density by providing public housing and redeveloping the region to attract new residents and businesses. Through this project, the goal of the construction was to build approximately about 10,000 new public housing units and bring around 4,000 new residents. In order to successfully carry out the plan, the officials used the region being an ‘unplanned suburb’ as their advantage and announced that it needs rebuilding due to many communities such as Bishop, La Loma, Palo Verde, and Solano Canyon being too “slum”. They used an example of high towers that it needed a stronger foundation to reconstruct hills and roads. In order for the reconstruction to happen, the residents had to be moved to another region and could not do anything but to watch their communities get demolished. The reconstruction of the city only strived for what it will look like in the future, ignoring the current residents residing in the area. In addition, the government purchased their property at a low price, not enabling residents to buy a property elsewhere. This ultimately caused a repeated cycle of poverty and forced the residents in Elysian Park to rely solely upon public housing, proving the inability of the project.
The negative effects of the construction of Elysian Park Heights led to a severe refusal from both residents and others outside the region who were afraid of socialism. The opponents of the project included many institutions and individuals such as The Los Angeles Times and lobbyists from California Real Estate Institution, who argued that the project is nothing but enforcing socialist or communist ideas specifically targeting the American people (Hines). Due to this reason, Mayor Bowron lost much support from the citizens was eventually defeated in the 1953 election to Norris Poulson, who in his campaign emphasized the importance of anti-communism and several housing programs. As soon as he was elected, he abolished Bowron’s effort to redevelop the region and ultimately dropped the Elysian Park Heights project. He sold the land originally purchased for the construction of Elysian Park Heights to the Los Angeles city with the condition that land should only be used for the public (Shatkin).
On September 30, 1957, the City of Los Angeles and Brooklyn National League Baseball Club, Inc presented the idea of constructing a baseball stadium in Elysian Park to the city council. The contract between Walter O’Malley, the owner of Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, and Mayor Norris Poulson agreed on exchanging 9.9 acre Wrigley Field and 315 acres of Elysian Park, along with two million dollars to construct concrete roads and remove the public space. The construction of new roads, highways, and removal of public space took about 170 acres of 315 acres of Elysian Park promised. Mayor Poulson was able to remove the public space constraint by presenting his idea to build a zoo and on October 8, 1957, the contract was accredited by the city council with a unanimous vote of 106 (Shyer).
However, soon after the deal was approved, the Citizens Committee to Save Chavez Ravine stood up against the contract. They organized more than 50,000 written signatures on a petition and proposed a referendum concerning the removal of public space for construction and residents being forced to move out. They argued that the matter should be either revoked or left to the public to decide. The city council eventually approved of this referendum, allowing for a public election of the contract on June 3, 1958. As shown in [Table 1 here], the supporters of baseball won by 51.9% with a margin of 25,785 votes (Loyd). Based on the result of the election, the contract was approved once again and allowed for the construction of a baseball stadium.
Despite the result of the election, many oppositions to the construction of the baseball stadium remained. Julius Ruben, an attorney, filed a lawsuit to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1957 on behalf of himself and the former Chavez Ravine residents. A year after, attorney Phill Silver also filed a lawsuit based on Louis Kirshbaum, a taxpayer. Both lawsuits argued the contract consisted of “illegal use of public funds beyond the powers of the Council” and that it gave “O’Malley the authority to dictate how money should be spent” (Loyd). These files were taken to California Supreme Court and were considered by the Supreme Court Judge, Arnold Praeger. He took a total of three weeks to consider the case and on July 14, 1958, Judge Praeger called the contract “void as involving the illegal use of public funds, a manifest abuse of discretion” and that it was “beyond the power of the City” (Loyd). With his verdict, both Ruben and Silver were able to win their cases in court and stop the construction from happening.
However, following the victory, Silver filed another lawsuit that reversed Praeger’s decision to stop the construction from resuming. His lawsuit was filed to “prohibit the City Council from certifying the results of the referendum on the grounds.” In return, O’Malley and mayor Poulson defended themselves by petitioning the California Supreme Court and “that a court may not interfere with an administrative act of a legislative body” (Loyd). Although the theory that Silver filed was correct, his overextension in filing another lawsuit led to the favor of O’Malley and Poulson. In 1959, the California Supreme Court reversed Praeger’s decision arguing that the contract is made to serve an appropriate public purpose in the city of Los Angeles; therefore, the construction should resume.
Even after Silver’s second attempt to overturn the contract was denied, the legislation for petitioning over the contract did not end. In 1960, attorney Arthur Briggs filed another lawsuit on behalf of the taxpayer to try to save 27 acres of the 315 acres promised to O’Malley. This 27 acres of land was originally devoted to George Washington’s birthday and as a sacred memorial grove until the contract allowed O’Malley to use the land for the Ball Club. This lawsuit once again reached all the way to California Supreme Court but was denied due to the reason being it was too late. The Supreme Court mentioned that this file should have been brought earlier when Silver and Ruben filed their lawsuits and that new trial could not be raised. After Briggs’ case, the U.S. Supreme Court did not allow any more files to question the contract regarding the construction of the Dodgers stadium. The Court gave no reasons for their decision to further lawsuits, and it was heavily criticized by many lawyers and judges for being “political.”
After many oppositions, the construction of the stadium finally began by formally removing the residents of Elysian Park. The creation of Dodgers stadium also destroyed many communities such as La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishops, which have been described as “slum” communities in desperate need of reconstruction by the city officials. As seen in [Map 1 and 2 here], Solano Canyon is the only existing community in Elysian Park to this day after the construction of the Dodgers stadium. With the sacrifice of numerous communities, the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium opened on April 10, 1962.
The decision of Superior Court Judge Praeger allowed for the construction of highways that were necessary to access the stadium and overall subsidization of a segregated suburb, of which all funds were provided by the Los Angeles County. Inevitably, the original residents of Elysian Park were forced to vacate due to the construction of Dodgers stadium and had to face the practice of redlining and panic selling while moving to a different region. The minorities residing in the suburb were divided from the white, rich suburban neighborhoods by the highways. This separation based on race and social wellness naturally made it extremely difficult for the voices of the minorities to be heard and presented only the positive features of the redevelopment programs. In addition, the middle and upper-class suburbs continued to have immense support from the government while the ethnic suburbs were constantly ignored and left alone to solve their own problems.
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Furthermore, redevelopment programs such as the construction of highways may have played a positive role in creating more subsidized suburban areas but it was the complete opposite for the minorities. It led to the continuation or even worse racialization supported by the government and created a distinct line between the minorities and middle to upper-class families. Continued and worsened racism through the reconstruction of communities and highways along with the construction of facilities such as the Dodgers stadium sparked a riot that would be considered as one of the most devastating events in the history. On August 11, 1965, Watts race riots took place in California, causing the death of thirty-four civilians and leaving more than thousands injured.
In order to prevent such a riot from happening, it is crucial to understand the consequences before performing any action. In other words, all possible consequences, either negative or positive, must be considered before putting a new policy into action so that no one is impacted or offended. As a human being, one can often take things for granted and benefit by downgrading others, but it is significant for one to recollect that mankind ought to never be treated as a means to their own ends. No matter how much one can benefit from a particular policy or a program, all the points of view must be carefully considered so that the whole group can benefit without having to hurt others.
The rise of the 1965 Watts riot in California serves as an example of why mankind should learn to know all the consequences before performing any action. Although the term “redevelopment program” sounds positive when it is stood alone, this research paper enabled me to look at the negative externalities associated with the reconstruction of suburban communities and a lesson that one must not make any assumptions before having a thorough understanding of a concept. Although the reconstruction of suburban communities enabled society to look like how it is today, it is always important for us to question the negative outcome caused by the action of a human being such as an increase in racism due to the development of highways. A thorough understanding of the development of suburban regions could possibly lead to better action taken by the government in the future to consider better options for both minorities and majorities, resulting in an ideal outcome for all.
Table 1. Loyd, J. "June 3, 1958 Referendum Ballot Results." Online Archive of California. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2019.
Map 1. 1948 Aerial map of Chavez Ravine. Chavezravine.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2019.
Map 2. Present-day Dodgers Stadium. Chavezravine.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2019
Source: Google Earth
- Von Hoffman, Alexander. "A Study in Contradictions: The Origins and Legacy of the Housing Act of 1949." Housing Policy Debate. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. N.p.: Fannie Mae Foundation,
- Masters, Nathan. "The Origins of Elysian Park." 28 June 2013.Web. 09 Dec. 2019
- Masters, Nathan. "Chavez Ravine: Community to Controversial Real Estate." 13 Sept. 2012.Web. 09 Dec. 2019.
- Hines, Thomas S. "The Battle of Chavez Ravine." Los Angeles Times 20 Apr. 1997: 12. Print.
- Shatkin, Elina. “The Ugly, Violent Clearing Of Chavez Ravine Before It Was Home To The Dodgers.” LAist
- Shyer, Brent. “Walter O'Malley: Features: Wyman's Historic Efforts Bring Dodgers to Los Angeles.” Championship Rings, Loyd, J. "Chavez Ravine Fact Book Which Comprises the Untold Story of the O'Malley Chavez Ravine Deal That Mayor Poulson Did Not Tell." Online Archive of California. The Regents of The University of California, 9 Apr. 1962. Web. 09 Dec. 2019.
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